The other day, I had a discussion with a client who was fixated on the fact that their request to fill a position had been denied as the company is in a hiring freeze. He was passionate about how this corporate imperative was going to impede his ability to achieve his goals and that every plea he’d made to the company went unheeded. I asked him to help me understand what goals were at risk. He explained that he was worried about the NPS (net promoter score) ratings (customer feedback), employee engagement, and turnover.

So, I asked, if you hire this position, you will achieve your NPS ratings and your employee engagement and turnover rates will be on target? Not necessarily, he responded. And with that, we knew we were solving for the wrong problem. The problem wasn’t whether he was able to fill this position or not. The problem was how to achieve his NPS ratings, increase employee engagement, and decrease employee turnover. This then opened up a variety of creative ways to address each issue. We spent much of the session generating ideas to tackle each issue. And, at the end of the session, he prioritized the ideas based on 3 criteria:

(1) Which would likely have the greatest impact?

(2) Which did he have the ability to implement? (In other words, which would not be constrained by the organization’s financial mandates)

(3) Which would he be the most invested in leading? Where he had walked into our session frustrated and disempowered, he left excited and encouraged.

Often, we hone in on an idea or issue and become blind to other potential solutions to our problem. By taking a step back and reminding ourselves of the problem we are actually trying to solve, we can broaden our lens and see many possible ways to address the situation. The key is to separate the three pieces. First, ensure that you are focused on the right problem. Second, generate as many ideas as possible. Finally, decide how you might address the issue if you had no constraints. Only once you’ve exhausted your list of ideas, should you begin to prioritize them.